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St. Petersburg Bowl
Florida International vs. Marshall
Tuesday, Dec. 20, 8:00 pm
This upcoming Tuesday, the Florida International Golden Panthers, out of the Sun Belt Conference will look to keep their season-ending winning streak alive when they tangle with the Conference-USA’s Marshall Thundering Herd in this year’s Beef ‘O’ Brady Bowl in St. Petersburg, Florida.
FIU’s bowl eligibility was somewhat in doubt this year after a mid-season slump in which it dropped three of four games, leaving the team 5-4 straight-up with three games left to play.
The strong point of this Panthers’ team this season has been a shutdown defense that finished the year ranked 16th in the nation in points allowed; giving-up an average of just 19.4 points a game. Since getting tagged with 34 points in an 18-point loss to Arkansas State on Oct.18 as a 3.5-point road underdog, FIU has given-up an average of just 14.2 points in its last five games.
One injury note that still concerns me is Panthers quarterback Jake Medlock missed the final game of the season after hurting his shoulder in Week 12 and remains questionable at this time.
Marshall’s journey to this bowl game was even more perilous considering it needed victories in its last two games just to qualify with an overall record of 6-6 SU (7-5 ATS). The Herd finished the season second in C-USA’s East Division at 5-3 SU.
The primary reason for the Herds’ struggles this year has been an inconsistent offense that has averaged just 22 points a game and only managed to score 30 or more points twice this year.
Marshall’s defense has also been sketchy as best, giving-up an average of 30.2 points a game, which is ranked 84th in Division-IA.
Both these team’s current form and past trends favor a low-scoring contest, making the under a possibility considering the current 48.5-point line. It remains high enough despite the drop from its open. I usually wait until closer to game time to make a decision on the totals. If you play the side in this game, stick with FIU’s defense to carry the team to a win that covers the four points. I have Florida International winning this game by 3 touchdowns and that makes this one of my favorite plays of the bowl season at this time.
FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL -4
FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL/MARSHALL UNDER 49 POINTS (Opinion)
TCU vs. Louisiana Tech
Wednesday, Dec. 21, 8:00 pm
I don’t think that this is really the sunset that TCU thought it would ride into. The Horned Frogs played their final season in the Mountain West this year, winning the conference championship and positioning themselves to once again crash the BCS party and to play in a post-New Year’s bowl game. Instead, they get to take on fledgling Louisiana Tech in a pre-Christmas, mid-week matchup that is about as anticipated as holiday fruitcake. For TCU this is a far cry from the glory they experienced the past two seasons. In 2009 they played Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl and last year they toppled No. 4 Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl. Now they are back in the Poinsettia Bowl for the third time in six years.
The public, obviously, loves the Horned Frogs in this matchup. Nearly 80 percent of all action on this game is coming in on TCU, who is heading to the Big East next season. But Louisiana Tech is no pushover. This team has won seven straight games both straight up and against the spread. Outside of a blowout loss to Hawaii, Tech has been an incredibly tough out this year.
The Bulldogs possess a mediocre offense and mediocre defense. However, their resolve has been unwavering this year. The most impressive thing about their performance is that they have played five of their last seven games on the road and eight of their 12 games this season have been outside of Ruston.
TCU got off to a slow start this season, losing to Baylor in their opener and to SMU in nonconference play. However, they were able to tear through an especially weak Mountain West – which was playing its first season without BYU and Utah – and enter this game having won seven straight games.
I think that the Bulldogs will put up a fight in this game. TCU can’t have much motivation and can’t be too excited about playing in this lackluster game after back-to-back BCS paydays. They are saying all the right things leading into this contest, but I don’t see how they can get up for this game when they were hoping for a third straight BCS trip. Louisiana Tech is scrappy and still has something to prove. They have played against some top competition and are just a few plays away from being 10-2 or 11-1 themselves. Last year this team went into Auburn and put up a fight and also went toe-to-toe with No. 5 Boise State and LSU before losing. They have the motivational edge and that is usually critical in these early bowl games.
Right now I have TCU winning this game by a little more than 10 points and considering the number is right there I need to wait until closer to game time to determine if there is a play in this game.
Truth be told, its bowling night and really not sold on this game. As much as I want to post a couple of winners I have to admit this game may not be one of them. But I do like this game since the line has moved downward
Las Vegas Bowl
Boise State vs. Arizona State
Thursday, Dec. 22, 8:00 pm
Boise State may be the Rodney Dangerfield of NCAA Football: “No respect, no respect at all ... that’s the story of my life.” The Broncos are probably two points away from contending for the national championship. If not for freshman kicker Dan Goodale’s 39-yard field goal attempt drifting wide right as time expired in the TCU game, the boys in blue would be undefeated and likely at the top of the list to square off against No. 1 LSU. Instead, the team is rewarded with a matchup against 6-6 Arizona State in a return trip to the Maaco Bowl. Despite winning most of their games going away, Boise State’s success is perennially considered the result of a light schedule. This will be Kellen Moore’s final college football game. Regardless of the outcome, he will finish his time at this level as the winningest quarterback in FBS history.
Arizona State’s season was a tale of two halves: 5-1 in the first half and 1-5 in the second half. The nose dive at the end of the season cost veteran head coach Dennis Erickson his job. A game loaded with potential NFL draft picks, the four premier prospects all play when Boise State is on offense. Kellen Moore, one of the most consistent and efficient quarterbacks in NCAA history, will get his last chance to show off his elite touch and his game understanding, both of which may be the best in the draft (including compared to Andrew Luck). Also on his offense, running back Doug Martin is the near consensus top senior runner in this draft, and could go as high as the middle to early second round. And on the offensive line, tackle/guard prospect Nate Potter has a chance to be a top four round prospect himself. Finally, Arizona State will attempt to put pressure on Moore and contain Martin with star inside linebacker (a likely declaring junior) Vontaze Burfict. Burfict is an outstanding athlete and has a Ray Lewis, Patrick Willis ceiling, but his over-aggression as well as his off-the field issues may be the only two reasons he won't be a top 15 pick.
Boise State should want to prove something in this game. They were snubbed for a BCS game, despite an exceptional season including an impressive road victory against the SEC east division winner, Georgia. They are deserving of a better stage. Arizona State was in free fall at the end of the regular season and barely qualified for the postseason. Their coach is gone and a new hire (Todd Graham from Pittsburgh) has been plagued by controversy for the callus way he departed his former team. There is little incentive for this club to get up for such a strong opponent. There really is nothing to pick. Expect well-coached, fundamentally sound Boise to run roughshod over the wild, undisciplined stylings of ASU, which figures to be even more out of control than usual playing under a lame duck coaching staff. The Sun Devils' athleticism may result in some points getting put on the board, but Kellen Moore goes out big here and the game won't be close. This is among the most lopsided of matchups in the 2011 bowl schedule. Boise State will win this game hands down. This looks like one of the safest bets of bowl season to me. I have Boise winning this game by 3 touchdowns. And really think there should be scoring in this game big time
BOISE STATE -13
BOISE STATE/ARIZONA STATE OVER 66 POINTS (Opinion)
Southern Miss vs. Nevada
Saturday, Dec. 24, 8:00 pm
Larry Fedora led Southern Miss to a huge win in the Conference USA title game, but days later it was announced he was heading to North Carolina to take over the head coaching position. Fedora’s final game with Southern Miss will be in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl against Nevada. Nevada comes in losers of two of their last three games, while Southern Miss has won nine of their last ten contests.
Chris Ault and the Nevada Wolfpack took a step backward this year after losing star quarterback Colin Kapernick, but this team was still solid most of the year. The offense took a big hit when star receiver Brandon Wimberly went down with an injury before the season started. Tyler Lantrip and Cody Fajardo have split time at the quarterback position. Lantrip is expected to get the start in this one. Lantrip is coming off his best game of the season in the regular season finale against Idaho. The Wolfpack can run the football effectively against almost everyone. The Nevada defense was inconsistent this season. This is a unit that looked great at times, but they were also torched by some opponents. The Wolfpack defense will need to be at their best against a strong Southern Miss offense. Nevada has lost eight straight games in Hawaii, including the 2009 Hawaii Bowl, and they are looking to break that streak this year.
Austin Davis is a fourth-year starter at quarterback for Southern Miss. The Golden Eagles offense is so tough to defend because of their balance on offense. Jamal Woodyard is the team’s leading rusher, but the Golden Eagles use five different running backs. Tracy Lampley is a receiver and running back for the team and his versatility really helps this offense. This offense hasn’t been held to less than 27 points since the second game of the season. Southern Miss has had so much success inside Conference USA over the last few years largely because they have a much better defense than most in the conference. While many other teams must outscore the opponent, Southern Miss actually has a solid defense. The secondary has given up big chunks of yards at times, but the Golden Eagles do a nice job keeping opponents out of the end zone.
It’s hard to tell how Southern Miss will respond to Fedora coaching his last game with the team. Both of these offenses should be able to move the ball. My favorite play may be the Over in this game. Right now I have Southern Miss winning this game by a little less than a touchdown and buying a point means I have to take Nevada in a close call. But as I stated weeks ago I really do like the Over and that should be the better play for tonight.
NEVADA +8 (buy pt)
NEVADA/SOUTHERN MISS OVER 62 POINTS (buy pt) (Strong Opinion)
Missouri vs. North Carolina
Saturday, Dec. 26, 5:00 pm
Many believe the real bowl season doesn’t begin until after Christmas Day. If you subscribe to that theory, the Independence Bowl will kick off this year’s bowl season on Dec. 26. North Carolina and Missouri both finished the regular season with a 7-5 record. The Tar Heels dropped four of their last six games, while the Tigers won their last three contests. This may not be a marquee bowl, but I believe it has the potential to be a quality game. North Carolina has been in the news quite a bit lately because of the hiring of Larry Fedora. Fedora has done a great job with the Southern Miss football program, and he will take over the UNC program right after this bowl game. Interim coach Everitt Withers will still be the team’s head coach for the Independence Bowl. How will the players respond to the fact that Fedora is coming on board and Withers may no longer be with the team? Changing coaches right before a bowl game always creates more question marks about how well prepared the team will be.
After the team’s disappointing loss to Baylor in early November, the Missouri Tigers could have folded up the tent for the year. Instead, the team bounced back and put together three solid victories to finish off the regular season.
The last few games of the season didn’t come without some unnecessary drama for the Missouri football team, however. Coach Gary Pinkel was arrested in mid-November for driving under the influence. He pled guilty, and the school suspended him from coaching the team’s final regular season game. Pinkel is back coaching the team, and Tigers fans hope all of the negativity from that arrest is now in the past.
Bryn Renner had a successful first year as the starting quarterback for North Carolina. As he develops over the next couple years, Renner has the potential to turn into one of the best quarterbacks in football because of his raw ability. The Tar Heels defense was tremendous against the run this year, but they struggled against the pass. James Franklin excelled in his role as a dual-threat quarterback at the helm of the Missouri offense. Franklin’s running ability really makes it tough on the defense, because the Tigers always have two good runners in the backfield at all times.
Henry Josey had a massive breakout season this year. Missouri enters this game ranked 11th in the nation in rushing offense. T.J. Moe’s numbers are down quite a bit from last year, but he is still the Tigers most dangerous receiver on the outside. The Tigers defense has allowed a lot of yards this year, but they generally do a good job limiting opponents to field goals.
Neither of these teams is great this year, but both of them are solid. Both fan bases generally travel well, so I don’t see a big home-field advantage for either team here. I expect the turnover margin to be extremely important in this one. Both defenses seem to have improved quite a bit at the end of the year. I think the best play in this one is the ‘under’. I have Missouri winning this game by 4 points and looking at the pointspread it doesn't surprise me that the linemakers are concurring with Spooky.
Right now there is no possible way to make an opinion on this game and we will wait until closer to game time to see what develops.
And now that its game time nothing has changed. Really this has to be a game that has the earmarks of a no play. But that is usually not in my vocabulary. This may be the smallest wager of the bowl season so take it for what its worth.
Little Caesars Bowl
Purdue vs. Western Michigan
Tuesday, Dec. 27, 4:30 pm
It’s Big Ten vs the MAC at Ford Field in the Little Caesars Bowl on Tuesday afternoon as the early part of a nice double-header. Don’t overlook this game as it’ll be a high-scoring affair where this high-powered MAC offense will face a Big Ten defense for the third time this year still looking for their first victory against the conference.
Purdue is back in a bowl game for the first time since 2007 and will face a high-powered Western Michigan offense looking to secure the team first bowl win in what will be its fifth bowl appearance. Purdue will be missing one of its main rushers (Ralph Boden) and its best receiver (OJ Ross). They do still have some talent on offense with freshman RB Akeem Hunt and a QB tandem that should be able to put up some points, and they’ll need to against the Broncos. Western Michigan’s campus is located only 140 miles from Detroit so they should have a home-crowd advantage.
The fun part of this game will be watching the Broncos offense go to work against Purdue’s defense which gives up 26.4 points a game and, although stout against the run, struggles to stop the pass. That plays right into Western Michigan’s hands as QB Alex Carder is scheduled to return from a separated shoulder which kept him out of the last game but didn’t stop him from finishing in the top 20 QB’s in the nation in almost every major category.
I am really looking forward to this game, why I dont know but have this game circled for a while. I think the MAC team gets this in win in this one since they’ll put up a slew of points and I don’t think Purdue can keep up. I have Western Michigan winning this game by more than afield goal and that my friends means this is a money line dog. As I stated a slew of points so lets go with the Over as well as a nice 2 smiley game.
NC State vs. Louisville
Tuesday, Dec. 27, 8:00 pm
This bowl used to be known as the Meineke Car Care Bowl (now moved to Texas), so what in the world is a “Belk”? No matter, it’s the name of this game which features the Louisville Cardinals and the North Carolina State Wolfpack. Lousiville hasn’t had the greatest of seasons, but they do have momentum on their side, winning 5 of their final 6 games. And, aside from their defense, not much else can be said about Louisville that can be considered “good”. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has passed for a meager 1800 yards and 12 TDs, while Dominique Brown and Victor Anderson fought for the leading rusher spot, averaging 480 yards and 4 TDs between them. Like I said before, their defense has been keeping them in games, with the exception being West Virginia. Expect the Cardinals to tough it out in the trenches to try and win.
NC State has had better luck on the offensive side of the ball, including a comfortable win over then-ranked 7th Clemson. Led by Mike Glennon, the Wolfpack have scored an average of 28 points per game. Leading rusher James Washington helped alleviate some of the pressure on Glennon. Defensively, the Wolfpack have played worse than Louisville on average, but the offense has more than made up for their counterpart’s shortcomings. If Lousiville’s offense somehow scores more than 25 points, they’ll win, but I just don’t know if that is happening. I have Louisville possibly winning this game by a point which basically is about an even game. More times than not when I have the game that close it really comes down to a one score game which can go either way. I am leaning to Louisville since defense does win games. But may need to wait until next week for my final answer. And yes I know what Belk is, my kid goes to Elon in North Carolina and shop at the mall right near the college.
Toledo vs. Air Force
Wednesday, Dec. 28, 4:30 pm
The only service academy in this bowl season will play here: the Air Force Falcons from the Mountain West. They will take on the Toldeo Rockets out of the MAC. Toledo was in the hunt all season for the MAC West title, when a shootout loss to Northern Illinois prevented them from making the MAC title game. But, when you can put up 40 points per game, it’s no wonder how the Rockets were able to stay close to the top of the conference. The Rockets love to run a dual quarterback offense, instituting Austin Dantin as the primary player with Terrance Owens as the backup. There also wasn’t any shortage of play-makers on the ground, as both Adonis Thomas and Morgan Williams had 11 rushing TDs each. They’d better have this high powered offense up and running, because their defense was none too spectacular. Routinely giving up 3-4 touchdowns a game should make a team lose 9 times out of 10, and with Air Force’s penchant for running the ball, the defense better buckle down. Losing head coach Tim Beckman to Illinois doesn’t help the team’s psyche much either.
For Air Force the ground has been their friend. Asher Clark is the leading Falcons rusher with 1100 yards on the season but, with the triple option formations the team runs, both running back Mike DeWitt and quarterback Tim Jefferson have rushed for the same amount of yards; all three totaled for 26 TDs on the ground. While Jefferson has been known to pass to keep the pressure off of the run, everyone knows that’s not how the Falcons play. Defensively, Air Force are in the same boat as Toledo, having a schizophrenic defense. While giving up more than 40 points to the likes of Notre Dame or San Diego State, the Falcons have also recorded a shutout victory on the year.
I don’t know which defense will show up, but this match will prove to be a high scoring affair. I have Toledo winning this game by 4 points, and that is almost where the line sits. They have more options to go to rather than just run the ball but I will wait until closer to game time to make a final decision although its hard to go against Toledo to win the game. Plus its a bowling night outside the bowl games so not going to go overboard with a huge weekend ahead. As I posted weeks ago Toledo and the Over small.
Texas vs. California
Wednesday, Dec. 28, 8:00 pm
he Holiday Bowl matchup between the California Golden Bears and Texas Longhorns is probably one of the best non-BCS bowl games..and it will be better than at least three of the BCS bowl games. Both teams possess the ability to explode on game-changing plays, and both teams are far, far better than their 7-5 mark suggests.
This 2011 season demonstrated several things. First, both Cal and Texas have the ability to return to their former privileged status. They have the recruits (especially Texas) and they have the top-notch facilities (especially Cal). They have large and devoted fan bases. They have money. California definitely has a balance offense.
A Holiday Bowl win would signal the re-emergence of at least one of these programs to their previous elite status. It would tip potential star recruits their way. It would give them momentum and confidence for the future.
For the Longhorns, it might be the win that propels them back on track to face down Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. It might be a fitting farewell to a winning coach. For Cal, it might be a long-awaited revenge for a 2004 trick by that very same coach. It might be the win necessary for competing with Oregon and USC as the top team in the Pac-12 after Stanford's Andrew Luck leaves.
The Texas defense ranks 14th in the nation overall and was first in the Big-12. They were lit up in their last game, but by Heisman Trophy winner RG3 (Robert Griffin III). I think that game simply an aberration and Texas will have had weeks to prepare for a solid California offensive attack.
Cal is led by quarterback Zack Maynard and running back Iso Safely, who were largely responsible for the team winning three of the last four games this season. Their offensive scheme will look to take advantage of what the Texas defense will give them, which will be underneath routes, slants, and drags. Texas will play a base cover-2 and not allow any deep vertical routes to get behind them. Mack Brown believes that the Texas running game will to it's mid-season form thanks to the return of many players that were out due to injury. He has them working very hard and had three straight days of intense practices Sunday through Tuesday. They will then back off steadily as the bowl game approaches. This shows how serious Mack Brown is to finish the season with a bowl win. I do expect Texas to establish the run and use more varied formations and misdirection running plays as they look to get a quick Cal defense out of their gap disciplines. The return of a healthy Malcolm Brown will be key to this execution.
The last four weeks of the season, Texas played without many of their offensive weapons. All but Whittaker will be back in the stable for Texas, and the Longhorns will have a strong ground game. They then can use play action to attack the seems and the middle of the field with ball control-type pass routes. This will end up being a game of field position.
All this being said this game is basically even. Maybe Texas has a 1 point advantage. So we are looking at the pointspread as the deciding factor. Maybe even a play on the total which I am leaning towards the Over. Right now we have to wait and see but I lean to California with the points and look for a field goal game either way unless California turns it on and wins by a bit more
Champs Sports Bowl
Florida State vs. Notre Dame
Thursday, Dec. 29, 5:30 pm
The Champs Sports Bowl is overrated.
Notre Dame, which is the single most overrated entity in the sport, is just 2-6 against the spread in their last eight bowl games and is perpetually overrated by the general Irish-loving public. With a loss in this game the Irish will likely finish the season unranked for the fifth straight year. Florida State isn’t far behind. Each year the bobblehead media fawn over the Seminoles and predict a return to the glory years of the early 90s. FSU never delivers. They have just two 10-win seasons in the last decade and haven’t been a real national player in longer than that. FSU has only finished in the Top 20 one time in the last five years.
Now these two teams will clash in Florida in a game that looks better on the marquee than I’m sure it will be between the lines.
Florida State is a team that started the year in the Top 10 and some people pegged as a dark horse National Championship contender. But a three-game losing streak, started by a tough 23-13 home loss to Oklahoma in mid-September, really submarined FSU’s season. That said, the Seminoles have won six of seven entering this game, with the lone loss coming by just one point to Virginia. Quarterback E.J. Manuel has been banged up for most of this season but he is healthy and ready to lead an offense that averaged 31.7 points per game.
Notre Dame rebounded from an 0-2 start to the year to win eight of 10 games. Their only losses have been closer-than-the-final-looks losses to USC and Stanford and the Irish have both an offense (No. 34) and defense (No. 34) ranked in the Top 35 in the country. Coach Brian Kelly has been under heavy scrutiny all season long for his handling of one of college football’s sacred cow programs. However, he is an excellent tactician and will be looking to take advantage of extra prep time leading up to this game. Kelly and his Irish, as always, will enter this game with something to prove.
It is never a bad idea to play against Notre Dame. This team has been a flop in games like this against more athletic, more talented teams. They struggled with South Florida and Michigan’s speed early in the season and I haven’t seen anything out of this group to make me think they can play at a high level. But it is also tough to trust Florida State. They lost at the same Wake Forest team that Notre Dame beat and the Irish also won a very similar matchup last year when they took down Miami in the Sun Bowl as a two-point favorite. I think that both offenses will benefit from the extra preparation time and I don’t think that either defense is anything special. I have FLorida State winning this game by a little less than a touchdown and laying the field goal or playing the money line kind of makes sense. It may also be a higher scoring game than most think. For now a small play on the Seminoles with more to come.